(In French, On TV, January 2017) I’m more a cat person, so while I can appreciate the basic concept of Marley & Me (“A family’s life as seen through the lifetime of a dog”) as clever, I wasn’t brought to tears by the inevitable ending as much as satisfied that the story had been neatly tied up. Owen Wilson and Jennifer Anniston star at the initially young couple that adopts a dog and then starts a family, experience setbacks, moves across the country and eventually settle into middle age while badly behaved Marley grows old. The stakes are very personal, and much of the film consists of episodes in the life of the protagonist, trying to balance family life and professional opportunities. The dog becomes progressively less important during the movie, but never quite goes away. Wilson slightly tones down his usual hangdog persona (a requirement of the character, who’s supposed to be universally relatable) and the result is a bit duller than expected. Meanwhile, Jennifer Anniston is Jennifer Anniston, which is to say innocuously likable but blander than necessary. More successful are minor roles for Alan Arkin (as a crusty newspaper editor) and Kathleen Turner (as a dog trainer). Otherwise, Marley & Me is cleanly shot, stylistically ordinary (except for a frantic year-in-the-life sequence that drags a bit too long) and not entirely manipulative despite the subject matter, which is already quite a bit better than expected. But, as I said, I’m a cat person.
(On TV, October 2016) Although presented as a mostly-innocuous romantic comedy (by definition, almost every film featuring Jennifer Anniston is bound to be innocuous), there is a troubling streak to The Switch’s titular premise (which has to do with, ah, mislabelled insemination) that makes the film challenging to enjoy on the level at which it’s offered. By the time the paternity issues are matched with the weighty passage of years, The Switch becomes far more unsettling than your average rom-com. It still manages to work, largely because of Jason Bateman’s blend of sympathy and antisocial faults. (I used to think of him as a likable straight man in his immediate post-Arrested Development film career, but if you look carefully at his roles since then, his persona has developed this growing streak of repellent behaviour—in other words, he’s become a credible bastard.) Meanwhile, Anniston’s persona seems to be a prisoner of the film’s plot twists—much like her character. Jeff Goldblum does show up periodically as a sympathetic boss, while Juliette Lewis continues to prove that she’s often best used in small comic roles. The Switch does end rather well, but there are a few squirm-inducing moments along the way, and the result may be more sombre than anyone expected.
(On TV, September 2016) There is little worth remembering about Along Came Polly, a wholly mediocre romantic comedy that deals limply with well-worn themes. Ben Stiller stars as an insurance analyst who gets to pick between two women (Debra Messing and Jennifer Anniston), weighing risks and betrayals in his decision. In other hands, this may have been better. But as shown on-screen, Along Came Polly struggles for laughs, barely tries for romance and suffers from Anniston’s charismatic blank. Stiller isn’t given much to do with a low-intensity take on his usual persona (although he gamely gets a great samba sequence), while Anniston is blander than beige in a character that’s supposed to incarnate risk itself. Bad casting choice—even swapping Messing and Anniston’s roles would have done wonders. The film’s problems, in a nutshell, can also be seen in Alec Baldwin’s wannabe-offensive boss character: He’s supposed to be off the wall, but the film can barely make him feel eccentric. Along Came Polly often goes for gross-out humour yet can’t even manage a yawn. And so it goes, with good actors wasted in dull turns (including Kevin Hart in a pre-stardom tertiary role) in a film that’s almost entirely generic.
(On Cable TV, June 2016) I hadn’t seen a screwball comedy in a long while, and veteran writer/director Peter Bogdanovich’s She’s Funny That Way is unapologetic about how it tries to re-create the confused romantic farces of earlier film eras. Here we have an adulterous theatre director, his wife (an actress), their friend (an actor), an escort changed by their meeting, the worst psychiatrist even, a private detective, a lonely judge … clashing together in weird and ridiculous ways. The film gradually builds it set pieces, goofs along its equally goofy characters, leaves the actors to do their best and lets the chaos take over. What’s unfortunate is that the film keeps its best set pieces (the restaurant clash) for the middle, leading to a curiously lacklustre ending. Still, the film is fun, and the surprising number of recognizable actors showing up in minor roles only adds to the film’s unpredictability. Owen Wilson is fine as the lead director, with Kathryn Hawn, Rhys Ifan and Imogen Poots holding up their end of the plot. Surprisingly enough, queen-of-blandness Jennifer Anniston also turns in a thoroughly despicable performance. She’s Funny That Way’s pacing is zippy, the misunderstandings are numerous, the dialogue relatively interesting and a stuffed squirrel even shows up as a plot point. I’m not sure I can ask for much more.
(On TV, August 2015) I have now seen too many so-called comedies about breakups and they all share one common characteristics: They are depressing, unfunny, unpleasant and almost a chore to go through. The Break Up may be directed by Peyton Reed –who, in between Bring it On and Down With Love, once seemed such a promising director), it’s not particularly funny, compelling nor all that insightful regarding human relationships. The basic premise has something to do with a couple breaking up but being forced to live together for some reason, but the basic dramatic arc here is one of likable people being quite unlikable with each other, and I suppose that I’m really not a good audience for that kind of stuff. It doesn’t help that the lead couple is played by Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Anniston: I’m not a big fan of Vaughn even in the best of circumstances, and I find Anniston to be a dull actress, usually playing parts that could have been far better handled by many other actresses. Such comedies often live on the strength of secondary characters and comic set-pieces, but there is almost nothing of interest to find here –The Break-Up is just a sad film, and the longer it goes on, the more unpleasant it gets.
(Video on Demand, February 2015) Perhaps the most interesting thing about Horrible Bosses 2 is the length to which this sequel is determined to follow-up on a film that didn’t need a sequel. I mean; our heroes having gotten rid of their horrible bosses, what’s left to do? Get newer even more horrible bosses? For a short while, as they create their own company and bumble around making terrible mistakes, it almost looks as if the sequel is ready to invert the roles and allow them to become the horrible bosses. But that’s not to last, as they are swindled by a horrible client, stuck with a kidnapping victim with plans of her own, and overextend itself to bring back the two surviving horrible bosses of the previous film. All handled with a slick tone that never gets too far out of control: For all of the potential violence (and sexual debauchery) hinted at, Horrible Bosses 2 knows that it’s meant to be a mainstream comedy and wouldn’t dare go where audiences won’t like. (Although at least one innuendo in the coda is deeply disturbing) Still: the film moves fairly quickly, gives short but striking moments to both Kevin Spacey (as a horrible boss who won’t let prison tone down his disdain for the protagonists) and Jennifer Anniston (once again playing sultry nymphomaniac), whereas leads Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day are once again up to their own comic personas. The film does have a few visually ambitious moments: There is a good business start-up pan shot early on, and the film is never better or more engaging than when the protagonists lay out their plan (which fails horribly, as expected.) Otherwise, Horrible Bosses 2 is a disposable sequel that’s not too difficult to watch –a bit of faint praise, maybe, but also an acknowledgement that it could have been much worse.
(On-demand video, July 2012) This mostly-innocuous mainstream Hollywood comedy may feel familiar, but it’s in the service of a decent film. Paul Rudd and Jennifer Anniston star as a couple forced to leave New York after professional setbacks. On their way to relatives in Atlanta, they discover a commune and are seduced in staying. Of course, the reality of living in a commune doesn’t match their first impression… and there lie the laughs. The rest may use (as is the norm with Judd Apatow-produced comedies) pervasive bad language and a few edgier moments, but let’s not fool ourselves: This is a classically-structured comedy, with the expected plot beats, character quirks and familiar humor that we’d expect from this kind of film. Rudd and Anniston are fine (Rudd may be developing as the more dependable straight-man in comedies: it helps that he’s so effortlessly likable), but the laughs belong to the large number of quirky supporting characters. Not every joke works (the film is marred by an overextended dirty-talk scene, flat references to outdated technology and an inability to cut away scenes on high notes) but much of the film is just good-natured enough not to mind. While Wanderlust could have been better, faster and a bit less predictable, the end result is quite enjoyable, and will whittle away a nice evening as long as you have some tolerance for profanity and brief naturalistic nudity.